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UK News How to Talk About Freedom During a Pandemic

00:11  23 may  2020
00:11  23 may  2020 Source:   msn.com

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NHS workers react at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital during the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY © Thomson Reuters NHS workers react at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital during the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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Many of the people pushing to reopen see the issue in terms of freedom. They argue that quarantine and government-mandated closures infringe on their individual rights to do as they please, to make their own choices about health risks. The United States was founded on the idea that individual liberty—for white men, at the time—is inviolable, and for many of its residents this argument resonates deeply.

An 1875 cartoon of a family enjoying time outside while smallpox and fever lurk behind them (The Cartoon Collector / Print Collector / Getty) © Provided by The Atlantic An 1875 cartoon of a family enjoying time outside while smallpox and fever lurk behind them (The Cartoon Collector / Print Collector / Getty)

But there is more than one way to understand freedom—something public-health reformers in England 150 years ago found made all the difference. Their approach could provide a powerful blueprint for how to effectively counter the “my body, my choice” anti-quarantine arguments of today.

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In the 19th century, public-health officials weren’t facing just one infectious disease, but many: scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhus, cholera, tuberculosis, and smallpox, which together killed tens of thousands every year.

Epidemics were common, and doctors could do almost nothing to stop them. Vaccination was available for just one disease, smallpox; testing didn’t exist, nor did many effective treatments other than rest and hydration; and doctors had little understanding of what caused these diseases. 

For much of the century, the leading theory was that they were triggered by “miasma,” mysterious vapors from rotting vegetation and organic matter.

Over decades, a group of pioneering scientists, doctors, and government officials realized that isolation, disinfection, contact tracing, and other now-familiar public-health strategies had the potential to decrease the spread of many diseases.

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Topics covered: [00:54] The idea of “ freedom ” being challenged in the U.S. today [04:27] Freedom in discipline for the collective good [07:24] Government measures and “draconian measures” [09:07] How COVID has made character & leadership more important than political party lines [11:21] Memory of

How do you manage fighting kids during a lockdown? "When we're talking developmentally about kids, they don't have the internal resources that we do to manage this level of stress and frustration," said psychologist Vaile Wright , director of clinical research at the American Psychological Association.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 14:  Prime Minister Boris Johnson applauds for key workers outside 10 Downing Street on May 14, 2020 in London, England. Following the success of the © 2020 Getty Images LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 14: Prime Minister Boris Johnson applauds for key workers outside 10 Downing Street on May 14, 2020 in London, England. Following the success of the "Clap for Our Carers" campaign, members of the public are being encouraged to applaud NHS staff and other key workers from their homes at 8pm every Thursday. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has infected over 4 million people across the world, claiming at least 33,614 lives in the U.K. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Scientists such as Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease, which showed that infectious illness was caused by microbes passed from person to person. This idea provided more evidence for the measures advocated by the reformers.

But, just as today, a significant minority strongly resisted, arguing that these measures impinged on their freedom. For instance, in 1890,16,000 people in Nottingham signed a petition against mandatory hospitalization for those sick with infectious diseases.

The petition described isolation in the hospital as a "prison [that] deprives us of our right to nurse our sick and claim our dead." Sometimes resistance to such measures became violent: During a cholera epidemic in 1832, riots broke out in Liverpool and other English cities when people rebelled against doctors’ attempts to move patients from their homes to hospitals. Widespread rumors claimed that these patients would be killed and their bodies dissected for medical research.

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An 1875 cartoon of a family enjoying time outside while smallpox and fever lurk behind them © The Cartoon Collector / Print Collector / Getty An 1875 cartoon of a family enjoying time outside while smallpox and fever lurk behind them

A variety of civic groups formed, such as the Vigilance Association for the Defence of Personal Rights and the Anti-Compulsion Society. The names have an ornate 19th-century quality, but their point of view is recognizable to anyone following the current anti-quarantine protests.

One prominent voice in this movement was Charles Bell Taylor, a wealthy ophthalmic surgeon from Nottingham. “Local government has become a curse,” he wrote in the Nottingham Journal in 1883.

“The meddlesome philanthropist and compulsory fanatic have been enabled secretly to undermine the constitution, and set at naught the just rights and legal liberties of the people … There is no evil so great as loss of liberty; nothing can ever compensate us for.” The language may be old-fashioned, but the sentiment feels utterly familiar.

In response to these vehement appeals to individual freedom, public-health leaders in London, Liverpool, Manchester and elsewhere developed a powerful counterargument. They too framed their argument in terms of freedom—freedom from disease.

A police officer wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, stands with commuters as they travel in the morning rush hour on TfL (Transport for London) London underground Victoria Line trains from Finsbury Park towards central London on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by Isabel INFANTES / AFP) (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images) A police officer wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, stands with commuters as they travel in the morning rush hour on TfL (Transport for London) London underground Victoria Line trains from Finsbury Park towards central London on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by Isabel INFANTES / AFP) (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)

To protect citizens’ right to be free from disease, in their view, governments and officials needed the authority to isolate those who were sick, vaccinate people, and take other steps to reduce the risk of infectious disease.

Pence visits Georgia cafe that reopened despite virus

  Pence visits Georgia cafe that reopened despite virus NORCROSS, Ga. (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence on Friday praised Georgia’s decision to quickly reopen businesses during the coronavirus outbreak during a visit to the state that included lunch with the governor at an Atlanta café that had resumed dine-in service. “We just went out to lunch and had a great meal, and we were able to do that because of what the people of Georgia have done,” Pence said at a discussion later in the day with restaurant owners and Gov. Brian Kemp.He said Georgia was “leading the way” in reopening and called Kemp’s leadership “clear and courageous and principled.

One of the most important reformers was George Buchanan, the chief medical officer for England from 1879 to 1892. He argued that cities and towns had the authority to take necessary steps to ensure the communal “sanitary welfare.”

He and other reformers based their arguments on an idea developed by the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill, who is, ironically, remembered largely as a staunch defender of individual liberty.

Mill articulated what he called the “harm principle,” which asserts that while individual liberty is sacrosanct, it should be limited when it will harm others: “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty and action of any of their number, is self-protection,” Mill wrote in On Liberty in 1859. Public-health reformers argued that the harm principle gave them the authority to pursue their aims.

In pictures: Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around the UK

An essay published in The Lancet in 1883 sums up this view nicely: “We cannot see that there is any undue violation of personal liberty in the sanitary authority acting for the whole community, requiring to be informed of the existence of diseases dangerous to others. A man’s liberty is not to involve risk to others,” the author wrote. “A man with smallpox has the natural liberty to travel in a cab or an omnibus; but society has a right that overrides his natural liberty, and says he shall not.”

Backed up by these arguments, as well as the new science of microbes, the reformers carried the day. From the 1860s to the 1890s, the English government, as well as many English cities and counties, used this interpretation of freedom to pass a series of laws allowing authorities to track and report infectious diseases, isolate and hospitalize people who were sick with these diseases, and inspect and disinfect people’s homes and other buildings to ensure they were sanitary. Partly because of these interventions, rates of many infectious diseases in England dropped.

Today, however, American public-health leaders and politicians are for the most part ignoring this approach; instead, they have built their argument on numbers, and particularly on the continued rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths. This is certainly a plausible, and rational, response. But for some, the call to protect individual liberty, and to kick-start the economy in the process, is more compelling than data and statistics.

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a group of people standing in a parking lot: A police van is parked in the closed Jardin du Champs de Mars garden in front of the Eiffel tower in Paris on April 7, 2020, the 22nd day of a lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus.

State by state, people are being asked to make a false choice between a rapid economic recovery and protecting the lives of vulnerable Americans. In a country where the idea of freedom is cherished so deeply, a compelling argument can and should be made that curtailing personal liberties is sometimes necessary to secure freedom for everyone.

Within the space of a few months, COVID-19 has joined diseases like scarlet fever, diphtheria, and cholera as a quintessential example of a threat that requires giving up one sort of liberty in order for people everywhere to enjoy their right to be healthy. Contagious and lethal, it so far cannot be cured or vaccinated against. Those who want to ignore social distancing, spurn masks, and crowd together in malls and on beaches might be making a statement in defense of personal liberty, but they are also undeniably endangering the freedoms of thousands of others.

Freedom, after all, is a flexible concept, and Americans’ freedoms surely include the opportunity to minimize the collective risk of random viral death.

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